Better Together!

Today is a huge happy Tuesday for me, and I am beyond excited to share my joy. But first, for those who don’t know my story, let me share some bits and pieces with you.

I was raised in Florida, was educated in Florida, raised my family in Florida, and practiced law in Florida. Fifty years of life in Florida, and I never thought I would ever leave Florida.

As we know, life changes, and at the prospect of my grandchildren being born and raised in Colorado, Florida lost its hold on me. I happily moved to Colorado to assume my grandmotherly role and become CoCo (my grandmother name). What could be more perfect than a part-time position on Tuesdays and Thursdays where love, relationships, connection, stretching, and learning with the grandchildren was the reality? My life was beyond wonderful.

But, as we all know, sometimes life changes, and the unexpected happens. When my husband died, I hurt. Frankly, I had never experienced such a tremendous loss, and I didn’t think I could go on. However, there were others that were not willing to let me give up. With the love and support of my children, grandchildren, and many close friends in Colorado and Florida, life changed. It looked different, but it did go on. I developed a new rhythm because I had to. And two short years later (time pretty much stands still as you grieve the loss of someone you dreamed of living out your life with), my daughter and her family announced that they were moving to Dallas, Texas.

They were kind and invited me to move with them to Dallas. However, it just didn’t seem like I should tag along. So, I stayed put. And again, I grieved a loss. I hurt, and I was alone. I spent a lot of time in Dallas. I would go to Dallas for holidays, special occasions, and grandchildren’s events. A new rhythm developed. Not ideal, but the best I could make of it.

And it bears repeating that we all know that sometimes life changes and the unexpected happens. And so it does. I have been walking on cloud nine as my daughter and family announced at the end of last year that they were coming home to Fort Collins. And today is THE day that they arrive!!!!

This (grand)mother’s HEART is so full. Not much more to say than that. So let me leave you with words from Jack Johnson’s song, “Better Together:”

“Love is the answer, at least for most of the questions in my heart.

Like why are we here? And where do we go? And how come it’s so hard?

It’s not always easy, and sometimes life can be deceiving.

—- Well, it’s always better when we’re together.

Yeah, it’s always better when we’re together!”

Listen to the full song here.

It’s The Most Magical Time Of The Year… Camp CoCo!

Camp CoCo

“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” F. Scott Fitzgerald

There is a coolness in the air today, which is a sign that fall is on the way. I will welcome the fall season this year, given the challenge we have endured through the past hot, hot summer months.

I hope your summertime was great. Mine has been a summer filled with wonder. For the first several months, the wonder came from you, the clients I serve. I feel blessed to meet and work with such special people. What I get to do every day is life-giving because of you all. To have that as the backdrop for Camp CoCo, which happens in August every summer, prepares me for the joy of being with grandchildren.

You’ve undoubtedly heard the key to happiness is to be fully present in each and every moment. So my estate planning advice for you as we move into fall is to make memories with those you love now! Let me share what making memories looked like for me this summer and how simple that can be.

Every August, I spend one-on-one quality time with my children and grandchildren at Camp CoCo. It is fast, fun, and full of delight. Most everyone knows me as Cris Carter, but my loved ones call me CoCo- hence Camp CoCo. CoCo was the name I chose 12 years ago with the birth of my first grandchild. I can’t believe it has been 12 years, but that is another story for another time.

Camp CoCo has become a family tradition where I get first-class time with my three grandchildren in Colorado. If you have seen me this summer, you know my face lights up when I think or talk about Camp CoCo. It is a challenging time as I find fun, stimulating, wholesome activities for the “grands” who are now twelve, ten, and eight and live in Texas. The days at Camp CoCo are some of the best days of my life, bar none.

The highlights of the 2022 Camp CoCo event included a couple of nights at the Great Wolf Lodge in Colorado Springs, a trip to the newly rebuilt Flying W Ranch also in Colorado Springs, the Larimer County Rodeo, a melodrama titled “To be ORE not to be” at Gold Hill, Colorado, just outside of Boulder and a stay in Winter Park Colorado. And, yes, after Camp CoCo is over, I need a lot of R & R!

From the perspective of the “grands,” they gave the highest score this year to celebrating old-time Colorado tradition at the Flying W Ranch in Colorado Springs. The Flying W is a working mountain cattle ranch that has provided family education and entertainment in the foothills of Colorado Springs, Colorado, since 1953. I lived in Colorado Springs in 2012 when the Waldo Canyon Fire destroyed the Flying W and was delighted that they were able to rebuild and reopen in 2020. That was also the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, so it is quite a testimony to the grit and resilience of the Flying W Ranch family that visitors can enjoy the nostalgia of the old west once again.

The Flying W is open daily from May to October and features western-style living. With its humble beginnings as a mountain cattle ranch in 1947, the Flying W Ranch is a living symbol of western heritage and has many opportunities for adults and children alike. I suggest you arrive early so you can fully enjoy the fun activities, including:

  • Hands-on with the Ranch animals, including oxen, miniature horses, donkeys, goats, sheep, chickens, and turkeys
  • A hayride on the Percheron horses
  • Riding the train through Christmas Rock Train Tunnel
  • Watching the native Indian Sweetwater Plains Dancers around the open campfire
  • Watching Navajo rug weavers and silversmiths
  • Viewing a horseshoeing demonstration
  • Ranges where you can test your skills at axe throwing and archery

Here is a short video to glimpse the fun and beauty of the Flying W Ranch.

The Ranch is open until October 3, 2022, and will have special Christmas shows in December 2022. I highly recommend visiting the ranch sooner than later with your loved ones. You’ve undoubtedly heard the key to happiness is to be fully present in each and every moment. So as my estate planning advice as we move into fall, I say make those memories with those you love now!

Mind The Gap(s)

Did you know that August is “National Make-A-Will Month?” If you have already prepared your will, congratulations! You have taken the first step in the estate planning process. Also, you are in the minority according to Caring.com’s 2022 Wills and Estate Planning Study, which found only 33% of Americans have created their will. Where I see the most significant gaps in people’s knowledge is that they don’t understand what a will does not do. With this in mind, let’s look at three things that having a will —WILL NOT— do for you and your loved ones regarding estate planning.

Here are a few examples of what a will does not do.

  1. As a parent, your most important role in life is to protect your children now and in the future. Most people think naming a guardian for their children in their will is sufficient. What they don’t realize is that your will only comes into effect when you die. By naming guardians for your minor children in your will, that ONLY works to name a guardian if you are dead. A will is not effective to name guardians if you are temporarily unavailable because you were in an accident or are hospitalized, and it leaves your children vulnerable to being taken into child services and the care of strangers if something happens to you. Unfortunately, this gap may exist in your estate plan even if you’ve worked with another lawyer to create your will. Why? Because many lawyers have not been trained on what’s necessary to ensure the well-being and care of minor children if your children need care and you are alive but unable to look after your children. That is why we offer a comprehensive system we call our Children’s Protection Plan, included with every estate plan we prepare for families with children.
  2. Having a will, does not keep your assets or your loved ones out of court. In fact, your will is the one document that tells the judge what you want and will become a public record in the probate process, where your will takes center stage. Unbeknownst to most people, a will only allows you to provide for the distribution of certain types of assets—typically, a will only covers assets owned solely in your name. Many other types of assets are not covered or affected by your will at all. I commonly see people who think that “all” of their assets have been planned for under their will, only to be (unpleasantly) surprised to find out this is not the case and that their planning is full of gaps.
  3. A will does not leave you or your loved ones in charge. A will leaves the local probate judge in charge. Court rules will dictate the process by which your assets will be managed, how creditors are notified, the timing of when all debts and claims are settled and paid (including your final income taxes), and finally, hopefully no more than 9 months later (but it can be longer) how your remaining assets are distributed.

As you can see here, having a will in place is a small but important first step in your estate plan. What is even more important is knowing what a will does and does not do as it has some gaps. But that doesn’t mean you should go without one. Without a will, you would have no say in who inherits your assets when you die, and everything you own is left up to the laws in the state where you are a legal resident. But even worse, your loved ones that survive will be the ones who must clean up the mess you’ve left behind. You should see your will as an important first step in the estate planning process—one that works best when integrated with a variety of other legal vehicles, such as trusts, powers of attorney, and advanced healthcare directives.

COVID-19 Highlights Critical Need for Advance Healthcare Directives

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the country, doctors across the nation are joining lawyers in urging Americans to create the proper estate planning documents, so medical providers can better coordinate an individual’s care should they become hospitalized with the virus.

For many people, this can seem like a daunting task to choose how and what they want for medical treatment if something were to happen to them, and who they would want to make those decisions on their behalf. As there are so many unknowns, it can be hard to think about this subject and decide how you want to be taken care of – which is why we are here to help walk you through creating advance healthcare directives for you and your family.

The most critical planning tools for this purpose are the medical power of attorney and a living will, which are advance healthcare directives that work together to describe your wishes for medical treatment and end-of-life care in the event you are unable to express your own wishes. In light of COVID-19, even those who have already created these documents should revisit them to ensure they are up-to-date and address specific scenarios related to the coronavirus.

While all adults over age 18 should put these documents in place as soon as possible, if you are over age 60 or have a chronic underlying health condition, the need is particularly urgent. Contact us right away if you or anyone in your family needs these documents created. We are here to help you and your loved ones stay protected during this time.

Advance Directives

A medical power of attorney is an advance directive that allows you to name a person, known as your “agent”, to make healthcare decisions for you if you’re incapacitated and unable to make those decisions yourself. For example, if you are hospitalized with COVID-19 and need to be placed in a medically induced coma, this person would have the legal authority to advise doctors about your subsequent medical care.

If you become incapacitated without a medical power of attorney, physicians will generally look to someone in your family to make these decisions for you. If there is no dispute between your family members, that may work. However, if there is a dispute or if no family can be located, they may ask the court to appoint a legal guardian to be the decision-maker. In either case, the person given this responsibility could be someone you may not want to have power over such life or death decisions—and that’s why having medical power of attorney is so important.

While a medical power of attorney names who can make health-care decisions in the event of your incapacity, a living will explains how your care should be handled, particularly at the end of life. For example, if you should become seriously ill and unable to manage your own treatment, a living will can guide your agent to make medical decisions on your behalf.

These decisions could include if and when you want life support removed, and whether you would want hydration and nutrition if that was the only thing keeping you alive. To ensure your medical treatment is handled in exactly the way you want and prevent your family from undergoing needless stress and conflict during an already trying time, it is vital that you document what you want in a living will.

Keep Your Directives Updated

Even if you’ve already created advanced directives, now is the perfect time to review the documents to ensure they still match your wishes and circumstances. For instance, is the agent named in your medical power of attorney still the individual you would want to make these decisions? Has your health changed in ways that might affect your living will’s instructions? Are your values and wishes regarding end-of-life still the same?

What’s more, whether you are creating new documents or updating your old ones, you should keep COVID-19 in mind. The highly contagious and life-threatening nature of the coronavirus is something medical providers have never dealt with before, and it has strained our nation’s healthcare system to the breaking point. It is in your best interest to protect yourself now, before you or one of your family members gets sick.

Coronavirus Considerations

In light of COVID-19, there are a few unique circumstances you need to be aware of when drafting these documents to ensure all of the potential scenarios related to the coronavirus and its treatment have been properly addressed.

1. Don’t do it yourself: While you can find a wide selection of generic, advance-directive documents online, you shouldn’t trust these do-it-yourself forms to adequately address such critical decisions. This is especially true during the ongoing pandemic when doctors are constantly tasked with making highly difficult and uncertain decisions for patients suffering from this deadly new virus.

When it comes to your medical treatment and end-of-life care, you have unique needs and wishes that just can’t be anticipated by fill-in-the-blank documents. To ensure your directives are specifically tailored to suit your unique situation, you must work with experienced planning professionals like us to create—or at the very least, review—your medical power of attorney and living will.

2. Open lines of communication: Because COVID-19 is so contagious, family members of those who’ve contracted the virus are often not allowed to accompany them to the hospital. This means your agent likely won’t be there in person to make your treatment decisions. While most advance directives give your agent broad authority to communicate with your medical providers, the documents may not explicitly authorize certain types of remote communication that have become necessary with the COVID-19 crisis.

To remedy this, you may want to consider adding language to your directives expressly authorizing your agent to give directions by phone, Zoom, email, Skype, FaceTime, and other methods. To facilitate this communication, you should bring copies of your directives with you to the hospital to give your doctors, and ensure your agent (and any alternate agents named) have updated copies on-hand as well.

We can guide you to make informed, educated, and empowered choices to protect yourself and the ones you love most – especially in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. Contact us today to get started with a Family Wealth Planning Session.

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This article is a service of Cris Carter Law, LLC. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 session at no charge.